Yesh Gvul
Courage To Refuse
Free The Five
New Profile
Refuser Solidarity Network

Name: Antony Loewenstein
Home: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Comment Rules
About Me:
See my complete profile

My Work

Sweat-Shop Productions
Sweat-Shop Productions
Sweat-Shop Productions



Previous Posts



Powered by Blogger


Monday, October 31, 2005

Accepting realities

Australia's Muslim community is growing - and under ever-increasing scrutiny - and yet this is rarely reflected in the mainstream media. I can't think of one regular Muslim commentator in the country. A shameful situation for a media elite that prefers white, privileged, Anglo, middle-age "experts." Australian parochialism rages on.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a weekly columnist for the UK Independent. A progressive Muslim woman, her musings are frequently challenging and punchy. Her latest, "Hitler couldn't have put it better", discusses Israel, the Muslim world's attitude to the Jewish state and much needed perspective on Western culpability (subscription required, so I've posted the full article below):

"Let me try and describe to you my reactions since the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, made his deplorable and inflammatory remarks last week. My brain feels as if it is a squash court, balls hitting various points, then another, and another with confusing speed and force, a repetitive condition if you are, as so many of us are, people who seek to push for a more equal and decent world where might is not right and universal rights and obligations are incumbent on all.

"Ahmadinejad said Israel should be "wiped off the map". Hitler couldn't have put it better. The Fuhrer would have played the audience similarly - a conference of emotive students marking Jerusalem Day, who would readily rise to imagine the glorious obliteration of the Jewish state. You know the type, furious people like millions of others across the Middle East, disenfranchised and stamped on by their own leaders, who displace their anger by turning their eyes on Israel, lusting for its annihilation in a kind of political pornography which provides temporary relief but can only lead to a greater sense of hopeless impotence and homeless rage.

"So the president picked the right crowd for his demagoguery, the right place too. Tehran is always willing to join in with "spontaneous" agitation, flag burning and marches to register defiance of the West while their own liberties are strangled noiselessly.

"It is not wrong to deplore the way Europe created Israel and the brutal cynicism with which the anti-Semitic European continent deported its own guilt to the Middle East, stealing the land of Palestinians who were not responsible for the Holocaust but were asked to pay for it with their lives and their inheritance. It is also legitimate strongly to criticise the actions and policies of successive Israeli governments. But Israel exists, and it must, a post-Second World War sanctuary for Jewish people persecuted for 2,000 years. And it is vital for progressive Muslims to stand up and say so.

"The president's remarks have been condemned by the righteous across the globe, and by individuals who like to believe they are righteous. The UN, the EU, our Parliament, Russia, China, even the new sober generation of civic Palestinian leaders, Israel obviously, and reformers within Iran have come out to express their alarm and dismay, clear rejoinders to the speech made by a leader who was once Mayor of Tehran and was elected to his present position only three months ago.

"The hateful Ahmadinejad is the worst thing to happen to Iran in recent years. A mean, lean little man with little parts and even less imagination, his restless inadequacy grasps at cruel despotism, nuclear military ambitions and religious certainties. His best friends are the Revolutionary Guards and "immorality" police who are once again beating up women and girls who dare let a wisp of hair escape the hijab. To see him isolated is heartening.

"But when Blair and Bush and the grisly John Bolton, US Ambassador to the UN, start to strut and warn Iran off with imperial arrogance, my outrage against Ahmadinejad is overwritten by fear and revulsion provoked by these leaders who have already led Iraq into such bloody chaos that it isn't even a state any more. There it is again, that glint in Blair's eyes, seeking another folly, another chapter for his dodgy legacy, another theatre to use our weaponry and wealth to show upstart nations who is boss.

"Domestically, commentators talk of Blair as a busted flush, a leader whose hold on his Cabinet is slipping away. On this week's Any Questions, poor Tessa Jowell tried pathetically to defend Blair's authority. He was one of the all-time great leaders of the Labour Party, she claimed devotedly. You felt for her as the audience and the other panellists laughed in her face, especially as she attempted to remind people that we have a UN and that reactions needed to be modulated and agreed by that august body. Yeah, right.

"Bush is in serious trouble too, in Iraq and at home, and may well choose to galvanise and distract Americans by attacking Iran, admonitory blows similar to those used by Reagan against Libya and by the adulterous Bill Clinton against Iraq when he was in trouble over Lewinksy.

"Then there is the Israeli leadership, buoyed up by this escalating situation, rushing to and fro making demands which I hope will be put down firmly. The foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, has said on Israel radio: "We have decided to open a broad diplomatic offensive. I have called on all my counterparts through the world not to turn a blind eye and to stop once and for all the Iranian games."

"They want the UN Security Council to meet, to take tough actions against the republic of Iran. Their political allies are already supplying aggressive postures and assembling "evidence" that Iran is likely to use nuclear weapons. In truth, there is only one country which has the capacity to use nuclear weapons in the region, and that is Israel, a nation that flouts all international directives and UN resolutions on nuclear weapons and on its policies in the occupied territories, which have victimised generations of Palestinians.

"The really terrifying fact is that nobody knows how big are the stockpiles of these weapons, not even the US, even though it freely supplies what it can to a country in which many volatile and unbalanced politicians get themselves elected. Nobody inspects Israel's nuclear capacity; the subject is never openly raised domestically or internationally.

"If the heat continues to be turned up by hardline leaders on all sides, we could get "pre-emptive" strikes by Israel, now that the principle has been established by the allies who embarked on the illegal war on Iraq. They may be unwise enough to think that such an action would secure Israel, and that the world would approve of it; in reality, it would only strengthen the already bellicose anti-Semitic heroes of the Middle East, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad foremost among them.

"And where is the proportionality? The Iranian president said dreadful and dangerous things. He will have encouraged suicide bombers already in the pipeline, waiting to shatter their lives and those of others. So in that sense, these weren't only words. But other powerful Iranians have intervened to cool the flames. The nicely named Expediency Council has said Iran wanted a fair two-state settlement for Israel and Palestine.

"So the thoughts knock about in my head, and I find once again that it isn't possible to emit simple outrage against one party or to agree that powerful and supremely armed, confrontational nations can do what they will, but that less powerful, well armed and confrontational nations must be punished. And the headache pounds away."

Letter of the month

The following letter appeared in the UK Guardian on October 27:

"Two thousand Americans are dead. Fifty times that many Iraqis are dead; 300 times that many human beings are injured. One million times that have been indirectly affected by a barbarous act of inhumanity. War is about numbers. The small number of humans who have much to gain by war. The large number affected. The small number who sit home and rally the large number to send their kids to die physically or mentally. The largest number who say nothing. The financial numbers are so huge that millions aren't accounted for, and millions more are paid in bonuses.

"I'm a Vietnam infantry veteran who has taken the time to peel away the onion of war. Strip off the uniforms, the flags, the nationalities, the slogans. War is, at best, the failure of leaders to solve problems. At worst, war is a massive money-generating machine with no regard for life. It's all in the numbers."

Arnold Stieber
Grass Lake, Michigan, USA

"A nation that's on fire"

Seymour Hersh interviews Scott Ritter.

(For Sydney readers, Ritter will be speaking on 28 November at the University of Sydney.)

Making choices

Michael Gawenda, Sydney Morning Herald, October 31:

"The CIA leak scandal is partly about politicians and journalists and the way they interact. No doubt that's cold comfort for Judy Miller, who has been publicly executed for crimes many journalists commit."

Gawenda is being disingenuous. Journalists make choices. Journalists are not forced to report unsubstantiated "facts" before a potential war against a sovereign nation. Journalists - the best ones, anyway - are always sceptical, suspicious of "official" leaks and rarely fully trust political sources.

Gawenda may feel sorry for Miller, but he should be taking a closer look at his own role in perpetuating the ever-worsening incestousness between the powerful elements in society. Many journalists and politicians are part of the problem, not the solution.

Compare and contrast

Australian culture "defined":

"Almost 50 per cent of people believe getting drunk occasionally is part of being Australian, a survey suggests.

The study of more than 1500 Australians, by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, found one in 10 reported having a problem with alcohol at some point in their lives. Three in five said they knew a friend or family member who had experienced an alcohol problem.

Germany, on the other hand - with its own myriad of problems, to be sure - recently hosted the annual Frankfurt book fair, the largest in the world:

"The other pleasant discovery was the real seriousness with which the German media treat the fair. Almost every radio network in the country (they are state-based there) had a huge outside-broadcast van parked near one of the five huge exhibition halls; television interviews with authors, critics and publishers seemed to run non-stop; the newspapers treat it thoroughly."

Hard to imagine in Australia. After all, why celebrate an "elite" artform, when you can grab a beer or ten?

Australia's cultural immaturity lives on.

The war is lost

The devastation must end.

It's time to wage peace.

Two sides of the fence

The Israeli blogosphere rants and raves about the Gaza withdrawal, occupation, the West Bank and Palestinian human rights.

"Living in Gaza" is worth a read. Written by a Swedish woman who is married to a Palestinian native of Gaza, the couple recently moved to Gaza so that their young children would get to know the father’s family and learn more about his Muslim heritage.

It's beginning...

The charges have been laid. And the pressure will only increase on the Bush administration.

Next step on the road to recovery (in a just world, anyway): Bush, Blair and Howard in the dock for their lies over Iraq, WMD and occupation.

Our leaders lie

Robert Fisk examines the rhetoric of Bush, Blair, Iran...and Australia:

" But for Bush, America is not anxious to withdraw from Iraq. Far from it. The United States is fighting enemies who want to establish a "totalitarian empire", he says, a "mortal danger to all humanity" which America will confront. Washington is fighting "as brutal an enemy as we have ever faced". Come again? What about Hitler's Nazi Germany? Mussolini's fascist Italy? The cruel, expansionist Japanese empire which bombed Pearl Harbour in 1941?

"In Australia a couple of weeks ago, I found Muslims in Melbourne and Adelaide regaling me with stories of abuse and obscenities in the street. New laws are about to be introduced by Prime Minister John Howard to counter "terror" which will not only allow detention without trial, but also the extension of "sedition" laws which could be used against those (mainly Muslims, of course) who oppose Australia's preposterous military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Well, count me in, John. I think you live in a great country with great people, but I'm planning to turn up in Adelaide again in the spring to argue against any Western involvement in those two countries, including yours. I look forward to a sedition charge. And to Lord Blair "doing something" against North Korea. I hope Mr Bush never does discover enemies worse than the Wehrmacht and the SS. And I sincerely trust that the little satraps of the religious neocrocracy that is Iran will grow up in the years to come. Alas. Like Peter Pan, our leaders wish to be forever young, forever childish, and forever ready to play in their bloodless sandpits - at our expense."

Friday, October 28, 2005

Taking some time

I'm taking a short break in Melbourne. It's my birthday. How old? Let's just say I'm older than Paris Hilton and younger than Gore Vidal. I'll be back online early next week.

Some weekend reading. John Pilger's latest New Statesman column, "The Epic Crime That Dare Not Speak Its Name", compares the Iraq immorality with the Nuremberg trial of the Nazi leadership.

Check out the fascinating Democracy Now interview with the former head of Abu Ghraib, Janis Karpinski. She discusses how they broke the Geneva Conventions and Israel's (possible) involvement in the now infamous abuse.

Israel is calling for Iran to be booted from the UN after its recent outrageous comments - though Israel's actual behaviour, rather than rhetoric, requires more than condemnation - and keep checking the Huffington Post on the latest regarding the Plame/Bush/Cheney/WMD/Iraq illegality saga.

See you Monday.

Making the right decision

Ilan Pappe, senior lecturer in political science at Haifa University, Counterpunch, October 27:

"No Israeli government in history, backed by the US, has offered equal rights to the Palestinians, either in Israel or in the occupied territories. Israel has always demanded a Jewish majority and exclusivity in the shared land, while allowing, in the latest peace proposal, an impossible Palestinian state over a fragmented 8% of historic Palestine. More generous Israelis offer a few more percent.

"Snippets of Palestinian territory, reminiscent of South African Bantustans - as the failed Oslo accords have proven - is a recipe for more bloodshed. It will drag the United States even more deeply into an endless conflict - one which could be solved today by embracing the very values Americans hold dear: equal rights and justice for all."

Who are the real Jews?

Bahrain blogger Zainab Alkhawaja, based in the US, reads a book, "Real Jews", and understands the complexity of the contemporary Jewish community:

"...Different groups all claim to be real Jews and throughout the book they accuse each other of being like the Nazis. It is actually very complicated and by the time you finish reading the book you feel that there is real chaos. Before reading this book I had no idea of how serious and complex the situation is. Now I understand why they still don't have a written constitution."

The whole picture

Patrick Cockburn, Independent journalist in Baghdad, issued this dispatch on October 26. The headline, "Bush and Blair say things are improving. It's not true: they're getting worse by the day", sums it up:

"It is not true when George Bush, Tony Blair and Jack Straw say that things are improving. They are getting worse by the day. It was announced yesterday that Iraqis had voted in favour of the new constitution. No doubt this will be lauded in Washington and London as an encouraging glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

"But viewed from Baghdad, there is something absurd about the idea that a new constitution - the rules of the game under which the state will be governed - should be taken so seriously abroad when nobody in Iraq obeys the law and in any case there is no state.

"Iraq is full of phoney milestones. The US government is congratulating itself this week on training 200,000 army, police and paramilitary forces. But half of the 80,000-strong Iraqi army consists of "ghost" battalions in which commanders pocket the salaries of non-existent troops."

Read the whole article...and wonder why our media isn't giving us the real picture.

Making mistakes

Today's story in the Sydney Morning Herald - a terrorism mistaken identity case - makes for disturbing reading. The facts of the incident are bad enough, but under the government's proposed anti-terror laws, journalists would be unable to report any details.

Abuse of power is a virtual inevitability and accountability will be lost.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Fresh bigotry

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

"The skirmishes in the occupied land are part of a war of destiny. The outcome of hundreds of years of war will be defined in Palestinian land," he said.

Worldwide condemnation for the comments has been swift. Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister said he wanted to "vigorously condemn the remarks made by Iran's president. We are in the 21st century. Canada will never accept such hatred, intolerance and anti-Semitism. Never."

The comments should be condemned in the strongest possible terms. They are anti-Semitic, vicious, counterproductive and immoral.

"This government is more terrorist than the Maoists"

The Nepalese government engages in some good old fashioned state terrorism and Radio Free Nepal discusses a country that seems to be regularly ignored by the world media.

Preaching ethics

This intriguing report, from October 21, is revealing:

"A Republican congressman criticized the State Department on Friday for allowing a U.S. lobbying firm to work for Sudan while the Bush administration is trying to tighten sanctions on the African country over the bloody conflict in its Darfur region.

"Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia said he was "shocked" that the department granted a waiver from an order barring U.S. companies from doing business with Sudan. "This allows this guy to lobby for Sudan, which the Congress and the administration have said is complicit in genocide," he said."

Wolf should be shocked but it's nothing new. The Washington Post reported in 2001 that Halliburton, Dick Cheney's now former company, did business with Iran and Libya...and Iraq during the Saddam years:

"During last year's presidential campaign, Richard B. Cheney acknowledged that the oil-field supply corporation he headed, Halliburton Co., did business with Libya and Iran through foreign subsidiaries. But he insisted that he had imposed a 'firm policy' against trading with Iraq.

"'Iraq's different,' he said.

"According to oil industry executives and confidential United Nations records, however, Halliburton held stakes in two firms that signed contracts to sell more than $73 million in oil production equipment and spare parts to Iraq while Cheney was chairman and chief executive officer of the Dallas-based company."

The US government preaches to the world about morality but if there is a buck to be made…

A helping hand

The media ethics charity, MediaWise, argues that governments across Europe should assist journalists fleeing persecution and provide greater support. The report highlights the important work being done by NGOs and media unions across the continent.


Amira Hass, Haaretz, October 26:

"Will James Wolfensohn succeed where others have failed and cause Israel to release its grip on Palestinian freedom of movement?

"The Quartet's special envoy on disengagement affairs didn't mince words last week when he expressed his frustration and disappointment with the stalling of the talks on the matter of the crossing points and Palestinian movement.

"The Israeli policy of preventing freedom of movement for all the Palestinians and granting it, as a privilege, to a few began in 1991 (long before the suicide terror attacks). Israel has always known how to present this policy as a security "response." However, this policy combines well with the Israeli plan to dismember the Palestinian territory that international resolutions have intended for a Palestinian state, i.e., the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, on the borders of June 4, 1967. The Israeli plan as it has been implemented since 1994 is effectively to cut off Gaza from the West Bank and allow the Palestinians in the West Bank to live in between the expanding Jewish settlement blocs, in a few enclaves, between which the transportation connection is subject to Israel's mercies."

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Living in fantasy land

Conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan, October 25:

"I have to say that as someone who trusted the administration not to consciously lie or mislead about their evidence for Saddam's WMDs, I'd be pretty pissed if it turned out they did. We have no solid evidence for that, though. Yet."

Sullivan's unholy belief in the truthfulness of the American government is telling and naive in the extreme, but few conservative writers have been as transparent as Sullivan in documenting the Bush administration's sanction of torture, rendition and growing Republication hatred of homosexuals. Check his blog for a man constantly challenging his own views and realising the cronyism and corruption at the heart of the world's only superpower.

With the announcement today that 2000 American soldiers have died in Iraq - with many more injured and maimed and tens of thousands of Iraqis murdered - the US has asked journalists to not view the milestone as, er, a milestone.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, director of the "Coalition's" combined press centre, has sent an email to reporters (note to readers: this is not satire masquerading as the US army):

I ask that when you report on the events, take a moment to think about the effects on the families and those serving in Iraq. The 2,000 service members killed in Iraq supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom is not a milestone. It is an artificial mark on the wall set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives.

Celebrate the daily milestones, the accomplishments they have secured and look to the future of a free and democratic Iraq and to the day that all of our troops return home to the heroes welcome they deserve."

Boylan's deluded propaganda should be seen for the folly that it is. No doubt, some pro-war news organisations will respect his request.

So where to from here?
The International Institute for Strategic Studies has released a report that says American troops will likely remain for years to come, with little reduction of the 140,000 currently stationed there. The Iraqi army is, quite simply, incapable of independence.

The American people - and to a lesser extent the British and Australian populations - will not tolerate an extended and indefinite military commitment.

Now is the time to increase pressure on docile politicians thinking of withdrawal.

Australia's proposed anti-terror laws may make opposition to illegal military operations a punishable offence, so let it be said once again: the Iraq quagmire has made us a greater terrorist target and has created the perfect breeding ground for Islamists with a grievance against the West and its arrogance. The defeat of America and its allies in Iraq is vital to ensure similiar acts are not carried out again.

News bytes

- Tell me something I don't know. Who knew stenography paid so well?

- The neo-cons are restless. Here's Lawrence Kaplan, senior editor at The New Republic, discovering that freedom, democracy and roses won't be coming any time soon in Iraq (perhaps he should have left his ideology at the door before and realised it was never going to happen):

"Gone is the hope that Iraq would be a liberal democratic beacon for the rest of the Arab world. Gone, too, is the hope that liberal democrats would triumph even within Iraq."

- Brit Hume, Fox News commentator: "
By historic standards, these casualties [2000 American dead in Iraq] are negligible."

- An Australian playwright tackles the Palestinian issue.

- The Australian Federal Police assisted the Indonesian police in arresting nine Australians with drug possession and trafficking, leading inevitably to a possible death sentence. Australia should be against the death penalty in all cases, all the time, anywhere in the world.

Book club

Ariel Sharon recommends a book.

The cabal

Juan Cole examines the tangled web between the New York Times, Rupert Murdoch, a post 9/11 America and patriotism in the run-up to Iraq war:

"The NYT had no sources to speak of inside the Bush administration, a real drawback in covering Washington, because it was a left of centre newspaper in a political environment dominated by the Right. Miller had sources among the Neoconservatives, with whom she shared some key concerns (biological weapons, the threat of Muslim radicalism, etc.) So she could get the Washington "scoops." And her perspective skewed Right in ways that could protect the NYT from charges that it was consistently biased against Bush. Of course, in retrospect, Bush's world was a dangerous fantasy, and giving it space on the front page of the NYT just sullied the Grey Lady with malicious prevarications."

And the price for such cosiness? Over 2000 American dead and tens of thousands of Iraqis murdered (Iraqi Body Count claims over 30,000 but the figure is likely to be much higher.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


A legend passes on.

Her bravery will be remembered.

Define power

The Zionist lobby likes to believe that anti-Semitism is just below the surface of anybody who dares criticise Israel. It's a powerful argument, though palpably false. Few journalists or politicians wants to be tarred with the anti-Semitic brush, but then, how else to rationally debate Israel and its brutal occupation of nearly 40 years?

AIJAC, Australia's leading Zionist propagandists, are long on rhetoric and quick to label any journalist, advocate or politician with seemingly anti-Israel comments. They are masters of the "boy who cried wolf" school of politics.

In this week's Jewish News, AIJAC's Tzvi Fleischer has a few requests for the coming year:

A media wishlist for 5766

"As we wish each other a sweet, happy and prosperous year 5766, what should wish our colleagues in the Australian media?

"Of course, we wish these largely hardworking and dedicated people a personally happy and successful year.

"Yet this is also an appropriate time to ruminate on what would be the most important developments we would like to see to improve the Australian media, vital as it is for maintaining the multicultural, tolerant democracy we all value.

"Like any other profession, there are many general principles of journalism that it would be good to see implemented better.

"However, for current purposes, I have compiled an idiosyncratic wishlist of the top four developments I think the Jewish community would want to see in the Australian media in the next 12 months."

The rest of the article rambles through a desire for more "balance" at the public broadcasters - essentially whitewashing Israel's crimes in the West Bank and Gaza - and "a principled rejection of anti-Semitic themes." We agree on this point, but his definition is curious:

"Old fashioned anti-Semitism has fortunately been fairly rare in mainstream Australian media commentary, at least since the 'Ashrawi affair' in 2003.

"At that time, however, we saw that large segments of the media contributed to or had objection to claims that 'a powerful Jewish lobby uses it money' to shut down debate on the Middle East in Australia, and ensure that the Palestinian case remains unheard.

"Sorry, this is both untrue and a classic anti-Semitic line. Unfortunately, I am expecting a reignition of such themes this year, because Jewish anti-Zionist Antony Loewenstein is publishing a book, and according to his weblog, this exact claim is going to be a major argument in it.

"Wouldn't be nice if the media was strongly sceptical and unwelcoming of such claims, as they would be if similar attempts were made to demonise and delegitimise the public participation of any other minority ethnic group?"

I wonder if Fleischer kept a straight face while writing such nonsense. Powerful Jewish groups, such as AIJAC, use their political and financial muscle to influence media and political decisions. This is not a conspiracy. Other ethnic groups do likewise and have every right to do so. However, the often underhanded and intimidatory behaviour - some of which I'll be examining in my book - is unacceptable in a democracy. Besides, AIJAC's definition of "balance" is little more than paying lip-service to whatever government currently resides in Israel. That is their right, but it is likewise my right and responsibility to provide an alternative perspective.

AIJAC dislike dissent and regularly attempt to pressure journalists and editors to portray only one side in the argument. I know because I've interviewed many of them for my book and experienced it myself. They should expect to be challenged on this.

Sometimes I wonder if the AIJAC's of this world would be better suited to a country in which every media outlet simply reports what the government tells them.


A friend of mine works in India with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. A friend of hers based in the Maldives has been arrested and sentenced to ten years in jail for "terrorism". Her crime? Being a peace protestor and activist.

Amnesty provides all the useful information:

"Amnesty International considers her imprisonment to be politically motivated, and believes Jennifer Latheef is a prisoner of conscience, jailed solely for exercising her right to peaceful protest."

A very high price

Reuters, October 24:

"The human toll for the U.S. military in the Iraq war is not limited to the nearly 2,000 troops deaths since the March 2003 invasion. More than 15,220 also have been wounded in combat, including more than 7,100 injured too badly to return to duty, the Pentagon said. Thousands more have been hurt in incidents unrelated to combat."

We rarely read about these figures, though they should disturb us as much as the nearly 2000 dead American troops and tens of thousands of murdered Iraqis.

A very high price for a lie.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Getting in line

The Guardian editorial, October 24:

"He may be a lurid shade of yellow, addicted to Duff beer and one of the least responsible staff at Springfield nuclear power station, but Homer Simpson deserves his new accolade of top philosopher in a magazine poll of leading men of the current decade. His antics are often deplorable and few real-life women would envy the role of his saintly wife, Marge, but Homer is established as a character of the first rank in the long history of fiction."

Any thoughts on the "leading [philosopher] men of the current decade?"

My local picks are Greens leader Bob Brown and human rights lawyer and activist Julian Burnside.

My international picks are (deceased) Palestinian thinker Edward Said and journalist Seymour Hersh, a fine investigator and believer in pulling back the mask of power and cronyism in American government.

Perhaps I should have a younger person, too. How about Radiohead's irreplaceable Thom Yorke? A worthy contender.

Same old, same old

Israel making life difficult for the Palestinians? Acting like the Gaza withdrawal never happened? Who says this?

James Wolfensohn:

"The Government of Israel, with its important security concerns, is loath to relinquish control [in the West Bank and Gaza], almost acting as though there has been no withdrawal, delaying making difficult decisions and preferring to take difficult matters back into slow-moving subcommittees."

The occupation continues unabated.

Moral strength

This report in Murdoch's Australian carries moral weight (a possible first for that paper):

"Nobel Prize-winning author JM Coetzee yesterday launched a thinly veiled attack on Australia's proposed anti-terrorism laws, likening the Howard Government's controversial reforms to human rights abuses under apartheid in his native South Africa."

The suspension of law and order and imposed barbarity "
was done in the name of the fight against terror", he said.

Governments should be mistrusted by definition. To simply allow the establishment unprecedented "anti-terror" laws, and be told "trust us", is a recipe for institutional abuse.

I remember reading JM Coetzee's "Disgrace" many years ago. It is a powerful and eerie tale about post-apartheid South Africa and the lingering scars of those dark days. Australia could well be following a path of obscene government intrusion and oppression.

The Sydney Morning Herald's David Marr sums it up well today: The anti-terror laws are
"essentially about punishment - not on evidence tested before a court, but on intelligence in the hands of police and ASIO officers."

After the intelligence failures of Iraq and the dysfunctional immigration department, allowing police and ASIO officers such powers smacks of political opportunism, crass populism and wedge politics.

Leave now

Britain's Sunday Telegraph publishes an interesting report:

"Millions of Iraqis believe that suicide attacks against British troops are justified, a secret military poll commissioned by senior officers has revealed.

"The poll, undertaken for the Ministry of Defence and seen by The Sunday Telegraph, shows that up to 65 per cent of Iraqi citizens support attacks and fewer than one per cent think Allied military involvement is helping to improve security in their country.

"It demonstrates for the first time the true strength of anti-Western feeling in Iraq after more than two and a half years of bloody occupation."

Citizens of any country don't want to be occupied. This is not hard to understand. Momentum for a withdrawal of "Coalition" troops is building.

The ideal position would be a withdrawal in disgrace, tail between the legs and severely scarred, unlikely to contemplate anything of the sort again.

Sometimes lessons need to be taught the hard way.

The Australian media is reluctant to call for a withdrawal, not unlike the Labor party, fearful of being seen as weak on terror. Real bravery requires understanding when a monumental blunder has been made.

Ideology has opened the floodgates:

"US intelligence officials say Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has expanded his terrorism campaign in Iraq to extremists in two dozen terrorist groups in about 40 countries, creating a network that rivals Osama bin Laden's.

"US government officials said the threat to US interests from Zarqawi compared with that from bin Laden, to whom Zarqawi pledged his loyalty a year ago."

A win for the conservatives

New York Times, October 23:

"More than a month after the elections, nearly all provisional results have finally been released for Afghanistan's Parliament and provincial assemblies, cementing a victory for Islamic conservatives and the jihad fighters involved in the wars of the past two decades."

An unsurprising result. And a government likely to become aggressive against Western influence. American/Australian/British "democracy" is a very sweet thing...especially if you're a warlord, drug trafficker or criminal.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Speaking freely

An Iranian blogger has been sentenced to one year in jail and 124 lashes. Committee to Protect Bloggers reports:

"Omid was first arrested last year, confined for two months, including one in solitary confinement, and tortured, due to his blog which featured satire on the Iranian situation.

"When he was brought to court on October 8 he faced different charges, due to the fact that even in the Iran judicial system it would have been difficult to convict him on charges relating to his blog. Instead, he faced, and was convicted on, charges stemming from "morals" violations, including "having unlawful relations, drinking wine, corruption of morals (for having a birthday party) and possessing satirical pictures of Iranian politicians."

"Now this blogger in his early twenties will be beaten half to death and join Mojtaba Saminejad as a felon in the general prison population. The Iranian government should be as ashamed as the Iranian people no doubt already are. Please sign the petition for Omid.

"Omid now faces a second trial, presumably an appeal, not unlike Arash Sigarchi's."

The wheels are falling off

LA Times, October 22:

"A top U.S. official for aid to Iraq has accused the Bush administration of rushing unprepared into the 2003 invasion because of pressures from President Bush's approaching reelection campaign.

"Robin Raphel, the State Department's coordinator for Iraq assistance, said that the invasion's timing was driven by 'clear political pressure,' as well as by the need to quickly deploy the U.S. troops that had been amassed by the Iraq border.

Soon after the invasion, Raphel said, it became clear that U.S. officials 'could not run a country we did not understand. It was very much amateur hour.'"

From an Australian perspective, many questions remain, namely the real reason Prime Minister John Howard committed to the Iraq invasion and what he hoped our country would get out of it.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Defining a nation

Hostile regime

Or so says the US about Venezuela. And yet the Israeli arms industry cares little for diplomacy or morality, unless its hand is forced:

"Israel cancelled a lucrative deal to upgrade Venezuelan warplanes under American pressure, Israeli media reports said Thursday.

"Israel Television said Israel was to install its own systems in U.S.-made F-16 fighters for the Venezuelan air force, but the U.S. forced Israel to call off the deal. No dollar figure for the deal was given."

Shaking the tree

Rupert Murdoch's Australian is a shameless apologist for Israeli terror. Today, Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan continues the delusions and praises the Australian government for taking a brave stand for Israel at the UN:

"The [Prime Minister John] Howard-[Foreign Minister Alexander] Downer duumvirate in Australian foreign policy has changed our position on the Middle East at the UN in a way that is wholly remarkable, not only independent but positively brave, utterly politically incorrect and undoubtedly right in principle; and, amazingly, is meeting with success.

"Australia has always been a strong friend of Israel. But for most of the past few decades it has taken an understandable, if less than inspiring, refuge in abstaining from most of the plethora of routinely one-sided anti-Israel resolutions and actions at the UN."

As, once again, Israel is asked by the Palestinians to "not jeopardise the peace plan", Sheridan focuses solely on the Israelis, the major US client state in the Middle East and recipient of large financial and military support.

The Palestinians are mentioned in passing - "of course the human rights of Palestinians should be respected and the UN should play a role in this" - but no mention of the occupation, no mention of Gaza still being surrounded on sea, land and air and no mention of Jewish-only roads in the occupied territories.

Sheridan sees Australia's role as supporting Israel because it's strategically important - and alongside the US - rather than actually examining the behaviour of Israel itself in the West Bank or (until recently) Gaza.

Melbourne-based academic Scott Burchill has written about former Labor leader Mark Latham and the media's response to his views on the US alliance. Sheridan, like much of the establishment press, will simply not allow a political or media figure to openly challenge the status quo on foreign affairs. Blind support for Israel is one of those cornerstones.

Burchill writes:

"The near hysterical media reaction to revelations that former Labor leader Mark Latham had serious doubts about the US alliance was more than a mobilisation of bipartisan support for the relationship amongst Australia’s political elites. It was also an expression of anger by alliance cheerleaders, especially those in the Murdoch press, that someone who retained such discordant views had not been filtered out before rising to such lofty political heights."

Democracy ends terrorism?

The Bush administration and its various proxies have been arguing this point for years though increasing evidence suggests otherwise.

I'm reminded of a comment by Noam Chomsky:

"Everyone's worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there's a really easy way: stop participating in it."


The Guardian's Baghdad correspondent, Rory Carroll, recounts his harrowing kidnapping experience:

"It was 2.15pm on Wednesday, and a moment I had dreaded since moving to Iraq nine months earlier had arrived: kidnap. A potential death sentence for Iraqi staff as well as the foreign correspondents who are the targets. Since hostages started having their heads sawn off we have all been obsessed by it.

"In agreement with my Iraqi colleagues, the plan, if cornered, was for me to leg it. With a gun at my head that was not an option. I was bundled out and thrown into a Honda. I glimpsed Omar sprawled on the ground, an AK-47 trained on him."

Waning freedom

Reporters Without Borders has released its fourth annual World Press Freedom Index. The results are generally unsurprising.

North Korea, Iraq, Burma, Libya and Uzbekistan all remain deeply undemocratic.

Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Netherlands and Switzerland remain top of the list.

Australia is 31st, well below Lithuania, Benin, Cyprus, El Salvador and a host of other nations.

America fell 20 places, supposedly because of the Judith Miller saga and "legal moves undermining the privacy of journalistic sources."

Friday, October 21, 2005

Noble exceptions

All mainstream journalists swallowed pre-war lies over Iraq and WMD? All reporters more than happy to provide cover for government "insiders" and official "leaks?" Journalists keen to see themselves as fighters of truth and democracy?

Nearly. There were some notable exceptions, however, and they should be saluted.

The media has taken a justified hit both before and during the Iraq war. Many forgot that their role was to question and challenge, not merely filter official spin. Many have still forgotten. Many will never remember.

For some, the job is more than regurgitating dishonest "intelligence" and saluting in front of establishment power.

Of course, many can't imagine life without it.

News bytes

- Murdoch's Australian thinks anyone who questions the Howard government's proposed anti-terror laws is "idiotic." Only a propagandist - or groups with a vested political and financial interest - would not question such extreme measures.

- A BBC "analyst" is hurt by allegations in Robert Fisk's new book.

- Guardian journalist Rory Carroll has been freed in Iraq.

- New York Times journalist Judith Miller allegedly witnessed "Bridgeview used car salesman Muhammad Salah being beaten, housed in a 'refrigerator cell' and threatened with rape by Israeli soldiers until he admitted to bankrolling overseas terrorists."

- The Jerusalem Post is soon to launch a Christian edition. The Israeli right and Christian fundamentalists continue their short-term love affair.

Approaching apartheid

Chris McGreal, Guardian, October 20

"The Israeli military has blocked Palestinians from driving on the main artery through the West Bank in a first step towards what Israeli human rights groups say is total "road apartheid" being enforced throughout the occupied territory.

"The army sealed off access to Route 60 after the fatal shooting of three settlers near Bethlehem on Sunday. No private Palestinian cars are permitted on the road although public transport is still allowed.

"The Israeli newspaper Maariv yesterday said the government quietly gave the military the go-ahead earlier this week for a plan to culminate in barring all Palestinians from roads used by Israelis in the West Bank. "The purpose is to reach, in a gradual manner, within a year or two, total separation between the two populations. The first and immediate stage of separation applies to the roads in the territories: roads for Israelis only and roads for Palestinians only," the newspaper said."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Who runs the country?

Amira Hass, Haaretz, October 20:

"The IDF's Central Command has decided to cancel the military escort for Palestinian children on their way to school in the south of Hebron, Haaretz has learned.

"The military escort, which was introduced about a year ago, protected the children from repeated attacks by Israeli settlers near the Maon and Havat Maon settlements.

"The escort was cancelled yesterday following the murder Sunday of three young settlers from the region at the Gush Katif intersection, because settlers began to gather in groups on the roads and the IDF is reluctant to clash with them.

"Palestinian and diplomatic sources told Haaretz that they feared revenge acts in the area following the murder."

Hebron personifies the immorality of the occupation. Hundreds of Messianic Jews living amongst thousands of Palestinians. Arabs are treated like third-class citizens. And Jews openly advocate ethnic cleansing.

Israel is serious about peace.

Bill O'Reilly vs Jon Stewart

Tell me I'm dreaming:

Stewart: "It's true we add insult to injury...but you add the injury"

O'Reilly: "There's a lot of bad people out there and it's our job to go after them."

Stewart: "So when are you going to start?"

Our strong man

"The perception that this is a US-backed court, a product of a US-led occupation, is only one of the challenges Iraq's Special Tribunal faces. Saddam's lawyer has already set one of his first actions will be to seek an adjournment to allow the defence to bring its preparation up to a standard closer to that of the American-assisted prosecution."

ABC Lateline, October 19

Perceptions do matter and the "trial" of Saddam will proceed as predictably as the US-occupation forces dictate. A monster like Saddam should certainly face justice, but the US has no desire to understand the true relationship between Saddam and various Western governments over the years.

Why? As Robert Fisk explained in August 2004:

"Because if Saddam does a Milosevic, he'll want to talk about the real intelligence and military connections of his regime - which were primarily with the United States."

Guardian journalist seized

The risks of reporting from Iraq are revealed again today with news that Rory Carroll, Guardian correspondent in Baghdad, has been kidnapped.

Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian's editor, said: "We're deeply concerned at Rory's disappearance. He is in Iraq as a professional journalist - and he's a very good, straight journalist whose only concern is to report fairly and truthfully about the country. We urge those holding him to release him swiftly - for the sake of his family and for the sake of anyone who believes the world needs to be kept fully informed about events in Iraq today."

Latin American know-how

We rarely hear about Latin America, except the almost obligatory bashing of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and American attempts to assassinate him. When Chavez recently spoke at the 60th UN General Assembly, his words resonated - despite his questionable human rights record:

"We the people now claim - this is the case of Venezuela - a new international economic order. But it is also urgent we see a new international political order. Let us not permit that a few countries try to reinterpret the principles of international law in order to impose new doctrines such as "pre-emptive warfare..."

No wonder America is rattled.

Now some intriguing news from Chile about the use of online technology to engage the population in the democratic process. Any number of politicians and commentators are discussing the country's future and reject the individualist mentality running rampant in the West.

There is another way.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Fisk in Australia

My latest New Matilda column is about the recent Australian tour of journalist Robert Fisk:

"[Fisk and I] discussed the media coverage of his visit. He was interviewed on ABC PM, ABC Lateline and for The Age. From what I could make out of Shaun Carney's interview for The Age, he seemed almost uncertain how to approach Fisk (besides, why was a journalist usually tasked with domestic concerns, as well as being Peter Costello's biographer, interviewing a foreign correspondent?). Carney seemed more interested in the fact that the hand he was shaking had touched Osama bin Laden's, rather than Fisk's impressive body of work. At least he gave Fisk the opportunity to criticise the New York Times (copy from which is extensively reproduced in the Fairfax press) and suggest a name change for that august newspaper of record: 'comma, officials say, full stop.'

"[Sydney Peace Prize head] Stuart Rees said he'd contacted the Sydney Morning Herald and they'd been interested in running Fisk's Sydney talk on the following day's opinion page. They had wanted a copy of Fisk's speech, which he'd refused, and Fisk said, 'they should come to the talk and take notes.' Suffice to say, the Herald completely ignored Fisk's Australian tour."

A collection of New Matilda columns can be found here.

Our convenient Middle East client state

Israel: US Foreign Assistance, Congressional Research Service, April 26, 2005:

"Israel is not economically self-sufficient, and relies on foreign assistance and borrowing to maintain its economy. Since 1985, the United States has provided $3 billion in grants annually to Israel. Since 1976, Israel has been the largest annual recipient of US foreign assistance, and is the largest cumulative recipient since World War II. In addition to US assistance, it is estimated that Israel receives about $1 billion annually through philanthropy, an equal amount through and short and long term commercial loans, and around $1 billion in Israel Bonds proceeds."

The sooner more American people are made aware of this insane "investment", the geography of the Middle East may undergo a radical realignment.

Moral equivalence

Noam Chomsky interviewed in February 2002:

QUESTION: But you seem to see this moral equivalence...
CHOMSKY: There's no moral equivalence.
QUESTION: ...between bin Laden and Bush, don't you?
CHOMSKY: Moral equivalence is a term of propaganda that was invented to try to prevent us from looking at the acts for which we are responsible.
QUESTION: You say there are plenty of bin Ladens on both sides.
CHOMSKY: There are bin Ladens all over the world.
QUESTION: That's moral equivalence. That's a polemic, isn't it?
CHOMSKY: That's not moral equivalence. There is no such notion. There are many different dimensions and criteria. For example, there's no moral equivalence between the bombing of the World Trade Center and the destruction of Nicaragua or of El Salvador, of Guatemala. The latter were far worse, by any criterion. So there's no moral equivalence. Furthermore, they were done for different reasons and they were done in different ways. There's all sorts of dimensions...
QUESTION: But why, when the US is considering what to do about this, do you always go back to past crimes?
CHOMSKY: Not past. Present.
QUESTION: You mentioned Nicaragua.
CHOMSKY: I mentioned that because it's uncontroversial. Since there's a World Court [decision], Security Council resolution...Since it's uncontroversial, it's a good example. I mention these cases...
QUESTION: Are you kicking the US when it's down?
CHOMSKY: No. I'm asking that we accept the definition of "hypocrite" given in the Gospels. I think that's correct. The hypocrite is the person who refuses to apply to himself the standards he applies to others. I don't think we should be hypocrites.
QUESTION: To what aim do you do this? To what aim do you wish to point this out?

Up in smoke

A revelation likely to be buried/denied by the usual "they're liberated" crowd and the mainstream media:

"US soldiers in Afghanistan burnt the bodies of dead Taliban and taunted their opponents about the corpses, in an act deeply offensive to Muslims and in breach of the Geneva conventions.

"An investigation by SBS's Dateline program, to be aired tonight, filmed the burning of the bodies.

"It also filmed a US Army psychological operations unit broadcasting a message boasting of the burnt corpses into a village believed to be harbouring Taliban.

"SBS said Australian special forces in Afghanistan were operating from the same base as the US soldiers involved in the incident, although no Australians took part in the action."

Any journalists care to ask whether Australian forces know of such practices?

We don't want them

Islamophobe Daniel Pipes warns of a "looming immigration problem" in Europe. He outlines tactics employed by "illegals" to enter the continent but fails to wonder why they want to come in the first place.

"...It is probably only a matter of time until other Western states follow Spain and Australia and resort to military force", he writes.

Pipes' dislikes cultures that will seemingly infect the perfection of Western civilisation. He's a bigot and ignoramus given cachet by a gullible media. For that reason, he's in great demand in the West but shunned throughout the rest of the world.

Until Pipes and his fellow travellers acknowledge the ever-growing refugee crisis - and reasons behind it - the vicious cycle will continue.

I've long thought a clash of civilisations is imminent: First world vs. Third World. Why should we keep all the spoils for ourselves?

Putin and failing democracy

The Washington Post's Masha Lipman tackles Putin's Russia:

"Putin seized on the Beslan tragedy as an excuse to launch a political crackdown and to further curb democratic practices. The information about the situation in the north Caucasus, as well as anti-terrorist operations, became even more tightly filtered by state-controlled TV networks. The investigation of Beslan, like that of the theatre siege before it, has been much more about helping high-ranking officials avoid accountability than about a careful probe of the government's policy flaws.

"When Putin took over as Russia's president, Kabardino-Balkaria was quiet. But Putin's use of brutal force in Chechnya has backfired, producing growing numbers of revenge-seekers. Further centralization of power has led to deeper problems of the kind inherent in a heavily bureaucratic system: poor performance, lack of accountability, failure to coordinate efforts because each official seeks first and foremost to avoid responsibility at any cost. A local leader with an independent source of authority is regarded with suspicion - loyalty to the Kremlin is valued above all. This breeds incompetence and powerlessness among local officials."

During recent EU talks, Tony Blair and Putin discussed ways to fight "terrorism." Blair told journalists: "Russia and the Russian people, like Britain and the British people, know the threat which global terrorism poses. But we also share the same determination not to be defeated by it."

Putin creates terrorism across his vast country, as does Blair across the world. The chances of these two "defeating" it is about as likely as Israel accepting the democratic process in upcoming Gazan elections.

Theatre of war

The Daily Show - satire doesn't get any better - takes on the Bush administration and media management.

Checking in

While Iraqi Riverbend discusses the constitutional elections, veteran Middle East reporter David Hirst injects some reality into the region:

"Arabs have long warned of the "Lebanonisation" of Iraq, automatically mindful of the fact that virtually every western-created state in the eastern Arab world contains the latent ethnic or sectarian tensions that produced that archetype of Arab civil war. But whereas, in concert with the US, the Arabs finally managed to put out the Lebanese fire before it spread, their prospects of achieving the same amid the violence in Iraq are slight indeed. The inter-Arab state system - and its chief institution, the Arab League - has long been incapable of concerted action against what, like Iraq, are perceived as threats to the Arab "nation". Now the system itself is threatened by the growth of non-state activities, the cross-border traffic in extreme Islamist ideology - along with the jihadists and suicide bombers who act on it - or ethnic and sectarian solidarities of the kind that threaten to tear Iraq apart."

Australia's contribution to the war effort remains small, though we will all be paying the price for such folly in generations to come. When men understand history and politics with little more than ideology on their side, rest assured "freedom and democracy" will never follow.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Asylum seekers welcome

I'm astounded refugee friendly John Howard didn't think of this idea:

"The dictator of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, is making a cynical offer to refugee asylum seekers. You can stay here, but only if you live in the No Man's Land created by the Chernobyl disaster."

Don't hold your breath

Haaretz, October 17:

"Afghan President Hamid Karzai would recognize Israel's government if an independent Palestinian state was first established, Karzai's spokesman said yesterday.

"'We will establish relations with Israel after our Palestinian brothers have an independent and free state,' Karim Rahimi quoted the president as saying."

Afghanistan will be waiting a very long time for an "independent and free [Palestinian] state." Nothing on the table currently even discusses such a proposal. Gaza is still essentially occupied and surrounded on air, sea and land borders. While America offers platitudes and kindly asks Israel to "ease the daily plight of the Palestinian people", the nearly 4o-year old illegal occupation continues.

News bytes

- Stanley Kubrick's The Shining refigured.

- American magazine Mother Jones investigates Boeing and wonders whether its planes are unsafe.

- The pro-Zionist lobby works its magic at the Sydney Morning Herald.

- Noam Chomsky is the world's greatest intellectual. Sounds about right.

- Scotland's Sunday Herald issues a scorching editorial:

"If and when the so-called war on terror ever ends, our grandchildren or our great-grandchildren may well look back in disbelief and wonder how it could have been that, at the turn of the 21st century, the two nations that waged a global conflict under the banner of democracy could have so blatantly flouted that principle.

"The 'extraordinary renditions' programme, which breaches every law on international human rights, sees the United States target suspected terrorists anywhere in the world, kidnap them, drug them, cuff and blindfold them, bundle them on to a secret CIA jet and whisk them off to a 'friendly' nation such as Egypt, Uzbekistan or Morocco, where 'friendly' secret policemen can torture, rape and murder them.

"The UK colludes happily with this. We allow the CIA’s fleet of jets to come in and out of UK airports to refuel and get other logistical support while they ferry their captive human cargo around the world. Scotland has the proud distinction of being the most popular stop-off point for CIA flights on the gulag-and-torture-chamber-express."

Courting controversy on emotive issue

The following article appears in this week's Sydney Inner-West Courier:

Inner City Author generates fierce debate.

Annandale freelance journalist, author and blogger Antony Loewenstein has attracted controversy for his work on the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Since Mr Loewenstein wrote his first major article on the conflict for the Sydney Morning Herald in 2003 he has received hate mail, abusive phone calls and threatening emails. The condemnation continued after he contributed a chapter about Hanan Ashrawi's visit to Australia in last year's best-selling book, Not Happy, John!

His first solo book about Australian attitudes towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is months away from publication, yet Federal MP Michael Danby has already called for it to be banned. Mr Loewenstein said he started writing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after becoming concerned that the debate in Australia was one-sided.

"There are few people in the mainstream media discussing what the Israeli occupation really means," he said. "Everything is always framed in terms of what is good for Israel. So the idea behind the book is to ask why and to hear different voices, both in Australia and overseas, about the conflict that may not have been heard before."

Mr Danby wrote to the Australian Jewish News in August suggesting Melbourne University Publishing should drop the book, describing it as a "disgusting project".

But Mr Loewenstein is determined to continue exploring the issues and has already signed a book deal with Random House to write about the state of the Australian media.

Talking about the criticism Mr Loewenstein said: "You try not to let it get to you. The way I see it is the more people attack you the more you are doing your job well. My position is not to bash Israel because it is Israel - it's simply to examine Israel's role in the region and the impact of the West's attitude towards Israel".

Stuffing ballots

Back in July, Seymour Hersh reported on Iraq's January elections and claimed the Bush administration had covertly supported Iraqi candidates and parties with close ties to the White House.

Last weekend's election on Iraq's referendum was yet another attempt to bring "democracy and freedom" to the country. But what of the legitimacy of the election itself?

Juan Cole writes that large voting irregularities appear in one province.

The Asian Times suggests that, "in the January election, the Kurds dealt with the problem of being a relatively small minority in the [Nineveh] province by stuffing the ballot boxes."

The New York Times, meanwhile, reports that despite nearly three years of propaganda suggesting the so-called democratic process will bring stability, "senior officials say the intelligence reports flowing over their desks in recent months argue that even if democratic institutions take hold, the insurgency may strengthen. And that possibility has created a quandary for an administration that desperately wants to equate democracy-building with winning the war, but so far has not been able to match the two."

In Australia, our media offers little more than platitudes and "democracy on the march" stories.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Cindy Sheehan talks at Yom Kippur

Progressive American Jewish group, Tikkun, invited Cindy Sheehan to speak at its Yom Kippur synagogue service. Rabbi Michael Lerner has written about the experience and offers insights into Sheehan's strength and honesty (no link available):

"...Cindy was accused of having said in an email (the authorship of which she denies) that her son had died for Israel. The implication was that because some Jewish neo-cons in the Defense Department had been big advocates for this war, along with Ariel Sharon and his supporters in AIPAC in this country, that this was somehow a Jewish war.

"The very first thing Cindy said was that she had heard about these accusations and that they were false. She does not blame the Jewish people and she does not blame Israel for the war in Iraq. Instead, she said, it would be ludicrous to do that, just as it would be ludicrous, she said, to blame the English people for the war just because their leader Tony Blair had been a big advocate for it. Cindy told me privately that she was aware that 78% of Jews had voted for Gore in 2000 and for Kerry in 2004, and that if the rest of the country had voted the way the Jews vote that there never would have been a war in Iraq.

"Instead, she insisted, it was very clear who deserved blame for the war: Bush, Cheney, the Republicans, and the many Congressional Democrats who supported the war originally as well as many who continue to support it by voting for authorizations whenever asked for by President Bush, plus Halliburton Corporation and other war profiteers. It was these, not the Jews, and not Israel, who deserve criticism.

"During the question and answer period that followed her talk she was asked if she would unequivocally denounce David Duke, the Nazi who had apparently invoked her name and supported her on his website. Cindy responded simply and unequivocally that she had never authorized her name to be used in conjunction with Duke, that he was in fact a racist and anti-Semite and that she wanted to have nothing to do with such people, and that she completely rejected him and his message."

Sheehan's critics can smear and defame her as much as they like. She's an inspiring figure at the forefront of a new American movement.

The other side of the fence

Global Voices provides an overview of the Palestinian blogosphere.

This story is disturbing:

"Israeli media sources reported on Saturday that Israel recently received 300 well-trained anti-terrorism dogs from the United States and might use them against Palestinian activists in the West Bank.

"The Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronot said the dogs were brought from the United States on a special Israeli plane, adding that the Israeli army would use these imported dogs in their raids on Palestinian towns.

"Palestinians said the Israeli army has recently stepped up their use of sniffing dogs in arresting wanted Palestinians, adding that these dogs are fierce and aggressive and can cause severe physical and psychological damage."

An American Zionist organisation donated the dogs to "fight Palestinian terrorism."

The dehumanisation of the Palestinian people continues.

Our fading democracy

Newspaper circulation is diving across the world. Some institutions may deliver occasional highs, but the trend overall is in decline. The latest figures released by the Australian Audit Bureau of Circulation are revealing.

The Sydney Morning Herald is in trouble and the Age is little better. The Murdoch stable received slightly better news with minor increases. The Australian informed its readers of the news on October 14 and included this curious paragraph:

"News Limited expanded its share of the major newspaper market to 68.5 per cent, up from 68.2 per cent, selling 13.3 million papers a week."

What other Western democracies can boast nearly 70% of newspapers being owned by one company? Not many.

News Ltd chief executive John Hartigan believes the Murdoch juggernaut is just beginning:

"...There is still a lot to achieve and our faith in being able to significantly grow newspapers as a category is demonstrated in the investments we continue to make in upgrading technology and launching new products for readers and advertisers."

The Howard government is considering modifying the cross-media laws, the inevitable result giving the Murdoch and Packer groups much greater power and influence. Only a dependent or desperate leader - virtually every Australian Prime Minister in the last decades has been keen to shower love over Packer and Murdoch - would give the media moguls even more power.

Starvation after "liberation"

Al-Jazeera, October 14:

"A United Nations human rights investigator has accused the US and British forces in Iraq of breaching international law by depriving civilians of food and water in besieged cities.

"But the US military denied the charge and said that while supplies were sometimes disrupted by combat, food was never deliberately withheld.

"Jean Ziegler, a former Swiss sociology professor who is UN special rapporteur on the right to food, said on Friday that the Geneva Conventions banned military forces from using 'starvation of civilians as a method of warfare'.

"But he said that in Falluja, Tal Afar and Samarra, Iraqi and US-led forces had cut off or restricted food and water to encourage residents to flee before assaults on entrenched Sunni fighters over the past year.

"'A drama is taking place in total silence in Iraq, where the coalition's occupying forces are using hunger and deprivation of water as a weapon of war against the civilian population,' Ziegler told a news briefing in Geneva."

There is no way to independently verify these claims, though US denials should be ignored. The lack of truly independent news from Iraq - and the UN's disturbing acquiescence with occupation authorities - gives these accusations the air of authenticity.

In related news:

"A purported al-Qaida web posting has charged the US with fabricating a letter from the group's overall second-in-command allegedly to its leader in Iraq asking for money and laying out the group's plans for the Middle East.

'We in al-Qaida declare that there is no truth to these claims, and they are baseless, except in the imagination of the politicians of the Black (White) House,' according to the statement on a website known as a clearing house for al-Qaida material.

"The statement was signed by Abu Maysara, who claims to be spokesman for al-Qaida in Iraq. It could not be authenticated."

Can we trust this? Impossible to know. The point remains, however: the American, British and Australian governments are spinning themselves to death defending the Iraqi quagmire.

The world stops

Road to Surfdom discusses the superficiality of the Australian media:

"Apparently a woman from Tasmania who lives in Denmark had a baby. The Latham diaries are so last week. Or was it the week before?"

Tim Dunlop has a point. The Sydney Morning Herald features the couple on its front page, its London-based correspondent, James Button, has been sent to Copenhagen, and vacuousness is turned into "news":

"The new prince of Denmark will sleep 'within an arm's length' of his parents, Crown Prince Frederik has told reporters at Copenhagen's central hospital, where his wife, Crown Princess Mary, is recovering after the birth of the couple's first child on Saturday morning.

"As speculation turned to when the baby would be first shown in public - possibly not until Wednesday or Thursday - Prince Frederik's delight dominated Danish media coverage.

"Prince Frederik, who cut the umbilical cord, said he shed a tear at the birth. 'You don't stand there and act like Superman,' he told the newspaper BT."

An Australian woman has a child. She lives in Denmark and has married into royalty. The birth has no impact on Australia whatsoever.

Celebrity culture is not news. But then, the Sydney Morning Herald is increasingly not serious about real news. Its website leads with "Who makes Sydney's A-List?"

Absent morality

Gideon Levy, Haaretz, October 16:

"A skullcap is not a guarantee of any moral superiority. It is enough to take a look at the least ethical community in Israeli society, the settlers, most of whom, despite their behaviour and the extremist groups among them, wear a skullcap. There is no other group in Israeli society that tramples justice more. The fact that the leaders of the religious community almost never speak out on issues that are not religious or nationalist is serious cause for concern. Equality and human rights are not considered a value, and most of these leaders actually incite toward violating these rights. It has been a long time since a rabbi here spoke out about morality."

Beware the big headline

The world's media recently reported this "fact":

"Iran's military have been accused of involvement in the killing of British troops in Iraq. According to defence sources, Iraqi insurgents are currently being trained in bomb-making by Iran's Revolutionary Guard. More rebels are said to be receiving help in terror camps set up in Lebanon and Syria.

"Up to eight British soldiers have been killed in recent months by roadside bombs, triggered by infra-red technology alleged to have been developed in Iran."

Unfortunately for the Iran-bashers, those "defence sources" may have lied:

"Sophisticated bomb technology employed by the Irish Republican Army has been used to kill British soldiers in southern Iraq, a London newspaper reported yesterday.

"The Independent on Sunday said that eight soldiers died in five roadside blasts after being attacked with bombs triggered by infra-red beams.

"The bombs and the firing devices used to kill the soldiers, as well as two private security guards, were initially created by British security services as part of a counter-terrorism strategy at the height of the Troubles in the early 1990s, the paper said. But the technology fell into IRA hands during a botched "sting" operation about 15 years ago."

The mainstream press needs to treat all anonymous sources with deep suspicion and stop publishing outrageous claims as fact. The reasons behind these British claims are blatantly transparent and the media should refuse to play a part in such overt propaganda and disinformation.

Furthermore, the original claims were given prominence in the Australian media, while the latest story is relegated to few brief paragraphs, if mentioned at all.

Leading by example

Sunday Times, October 16:

"AN RAF officer could be jailed for refusing to serve in Iraq because he believes that the war there was illegal.

"Flight-Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith is to be court-martialled for “refusing to obey a lawful command” after he told his commanding officer that he would not go to Basra.

"He is the first British officer to face criminal charges for challenging the legality of war."

Kendall-Smith is an intriguing person. He is not a "conscientious objector", says his lawyer. "He is arguing that the war is manifestly unlawful."

He was born in Australia, brought up in New Zealand and has dual British-New Zealand citizenship.

The case may inspire other soldiers to follow suit. Not unlike Breaking the Silence in Israel - soldiers who finally acknowledged their actions in the occupied territories were routinely illegal and immoral - Kendall-Smith's actions are brave and principled.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Western values through terrorism

Mustafa Malik, a Washington journalist, Daily Star, October 7:

"Human rights groups around the world are concerned that the UN resolution calling on governments to punish 'incitement to terrorist acts' will further stifle the voices of the oppressed, especially because the world body has failed to define what terrorism is.

"This resolution has, says Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth, 'made it easy for abusive governments to invoke the resolution to target peaceful political opponents, impose censorship and close mosques, churches and schools.'

"The draft resolution that sought to define terrorism fell through in the UN General Assembly mainly because the United States and Britain opposed clauses that would permit "resistance against occupation" and call for the examination of the "root causes" of terrorism. America and Britain, representing the European Union, apparently were saying that if you have the guns you can not only invade and occupy countries, but should be able to rewrite political science, too."

Australia is also currently engaged in a "terrorism" debate. The Howard government insists that new legislation is necessary to safeguard citizens against the terrorist threat. The details of the proposed laws are extreme and even some Liberals are questioning its severity. The Age's Michelle Grattan rightly argues that the government cannot be trusted on this issue:

"It's easy for critics to argue that opponents of the anti-terrorism laws are exaggerating their misuse. This overlooks history and human nature. This Government's treatment of asylum seekers, and its patent disregard for the rights of [Guantanamo detainees] David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib do not encourage giving it the benefit of the doubt."

An Australian citizen should have the right to openly and strongly oppose government policy. Being against the Howard government's foreign policy is but one of these issues, not least the folly of the Iraq campaign. Who will define what "encouraging someone to fight for the enemy" means?

I was against the Iraq war. I was not therefore supporting Saddam or his regime. I have a sneaking suspicion that the "you're with us or you're with the terrorists" ideology is creeping into Australia. It should be vigorously opposed.

Getting past the spin

The New York Times today attempts to tell the story of "The Miller Case: A Notebook, a Cause, a Jail Cell and a Deal." It's a fascinating read - and largely ignored in Australia - and warrants a full investigation. Judith Miller - star reporter and pre-war propagandist - gives her side of the story.

This story couldn't be more serious about what it tells us about the Bush administration, its relationship to the media and the role of the New York Times to the government.

Arianna Huffington - a long-time follower of this story - unloads today and accuses the paper and the Bushies of a massive cover-up:

"Now that I have spent a few hours absorbing this latest instalment in the ongoing soap opera 'Desperate Editors,' I can safely say that not since Geraldo cracked open Al Capone’s vault has there been a bigger anticlimax or a bigger sham. After all, the question everybody has been asking is: who was the source who leaked Valerie Plame’s identity to Judy Miller?

"And the answer? She cannot recall."

Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Taking a dive

Bush is in freefall.

And the Republican "revolution" is in trouble. Of course, the Democrats are no better, so let's not expect any kind of radical change in 2008.

Convenient ideology

British commentator Nick Cohen recently wrote an essay in the New Statesman that claimed the Left is infected with anti-Semitism, Jew hatred is everywhere, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism and 2005 is 1933 Germany. It was hysterical and simplistic - and therefore appreciated by those who subscribe to the America/Israel/Western "axis of goodness" club.

A number of letter writers have responded in this week's New Statesman. A selection follows:

"Nick Cohen used his article on anti-Semitism (Essay, 10 October) as a crude bludgeon against the left. The article was illustrated by a picture of a couple of people holding up a banner equating a Shield of David with a swastika. Who were the banner-holders? How does he know they were from the left? What really seems to annoy Cohen is that the big anti-war march of 2003 was organised by a ragbag of Islamic fundamentalists, the Socialist Workers Party and "every other creepy admirer of totalitarianism". He adds that we should have talked with Saddam Hussein's victims. I did talk to Iraqi Kurds, and saw not a trace of fundamentalists, creeps of any stripe or members of the SWP. Why? The march was bigger in every way than whoever may have organised it. Anti-Semitism? I marched with contingents from several Jewish organisations, joined by the Arab Labour Group. I can't remember us being subject to a pogrom - though it was a bit embarrassing when one group applauded us."

Ross Bradshaw

"While it becomes increasingly impossible to defend Israel's policies, a new front has been opened by propagandists, namely Israel is singled out for criticism because of ongoing anti-Semitism. Nick Cohen fails to see that a country he lauds as a democracy is all the more culpable of human rights abuses, precisely because the inhabitants of that country, through the ballot box, are able to make the choice to oppress another people. He says that there is a free press, so Israelis do not have even the consolation of saying "we never knew", as often happens under dictatorships.

"It is indeed true that Israel is treated differently from other countries. It is allowed to occupy another people's land, confiscate their resources and build walls to imprison the population."

Diana Neslen
Ilford, Essex

"Nick Cohen's essay had some insightful points regarding anti-Semitism and the left. I am certainly no supporter of the state of Israel, but I agree that the left concentrates a disproportionate amount of time on criticising it. As Cohen points out, this is embarrassingly difficult to explain. However, I believe that Israel's policies in the occupied territories, and America's support for them and greedy colonial meddling in the Middle East, are responsible for much of the animosity in world affairs today. It is an unnecessary focal point. I further disagree that opposing fascism means supporting George Bush's warmongering. Some 25 million people across the world marching against a war that was a lie and is now a disaster suggests that the left is neither loony nor dead yet."

Matthew Kennedy-Good
London SE16

"To suggest that Hamas is at the centre of a multiheaded, anti-Semitic hydra is political paranoia. Israeli soldiers and settlers, with fists, boots and bullets, bulldoze the houses and crops of poor peasants, steal their water and land, kill their children and humiliate their elders, all in the name of the Jews. It is, after all, a Jewish state. Nick Cohen wonders why the illiterates of Hamas echo the absurdities of European anti-Semites? He muddles cause and effect and persists in looking down the telescope the wrong way."

Tony Greenstein
Secretary, Jews Against Zionism, Brighton